Oh, Scotty VII, what an interesting path you took to publication.
Back when ebooks and Kindles first started to be a thing, they rather revolutionized publishing. This new technology rang the death knell on some independent book stores as well as some small presses, and it was considered the great equalizer: you no longer needed to follow the long-established path to publication that went writer/agent/publisher; and just having an agent was no guarantee your book would ever see print and if it did, that it would sell. You no longer needed a publisher to put your book out and get it to readers; all you needed to do was get a cover designed and format your manuscript and upload it. This excited a lot of people; I was one of them, but still approached the entire thing very cautiously. I have never had a problem with people who elect to self-publish their work rather than follow the traditional path; I certainly never followed the traditional path or ran my career the way I was supposed to, at least according to almost every author I knew.
But ultimately, for me, the ebook revolution and becoming a publisher/author hybrid seemed not only like a risk but a time-consuming one. I didn’t have the time available to market the books I was traditionally publishing the way I should, let alone having the time to have to do all the marketing myself.
But I was curious, and remained open-minded. A friend started her own company and wanted me to write some things for her–short, more like novellas than novels–and since I’d always wanted to spin Paige off into her own series (despite being concerned about writing a mainstream type book from a woman’s perspective) and so I thought, well, here’s a chance to try something new and different. I wound up writing two of these and was partly through a third when I began to realize that even with an independent publisher doing some of the work, I just didn’t have the time or money or incentive to work any harder at marketing these books than I already was–and they needed more attention and promotion than I was able to give them, so we decided to end the business relationship, the already done books came down from sales sites, and that was the end of that.
I did eventually slap up Bourbon Street Blues as an ebook on Amazon, and it’s done okay for me; I’ve not promoted it at all but copies sell every month–but I am not getting rich, either. I also have a longer short story up as an e-original (but it’s also in my print collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories) and yes, I know I need to get Jackson Square Jazz up (one of these days), and perhaps when I’ve retired and have more time, I’ll explore the self-publishing option again just for the hell of it.
But there I was, with a partially completed manuscript and it was a very fun story; I hated wasting it (it was called The Mad Catter), and so, with a little bit of tweaking, I turned it into the seventh Scotty book, and renamed it Garden District Gothic.
I really love the cover Bold Strokes gave me for it, too:
You know you live in New Orleans when you leave your house on a hot Saturday morning in August for drinks wearing a red dress.
It was well over ninety degrees, and the humidity had tipped the heat index up to about 110, maybe 105 in the shade. The hordes of men and women in red dresses were waving handheld fans furiously as sweat ran down their bodies. Everywhere you looked, there were crowds of people in red, sweating but somehow, despite the ridiculous heat, having a good time. I could feel the heat from the pavement through my red-and-white saddle shoes and was glad I’d decided wearing hose would be a bad idea. The thick red socks I was wearing were hot enough, thank you, and were soaked through. They were new, so were probably dying my ankles, calves, and feet pink. But it was for charity, I kept reminding myself as I greeted friends and people whose names I couldn’t remember but whose faces looked familiar as we worked our way up and down and around the Quarter.
Finally, I had enough around noon and decided to call it a day.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life, and I grew up in Alabama,” my sort of nephew, Taylor Wheeler, said in his soft accent, wiping sweat from his forehead as we trudged down Governor Nicholls Street on our way home.
“It hasn’t been this hot in a while,” I replied, trying really hard not to laugh. I’d been forcing down giggles pretty much all day since he came galloping down the back steps the way he always does and I got my first look at his outfit. “But the last few summers have been mild—this is normal for August, usually.” It was true—everyone in town was complaining about the heat like it was something unusual, but we hadn’t had our usual hellish summer weather in a couple of years.
Last summer had been not only mild but dry, with little humidity and practically no rain—which was unheard of. Usually it rains every day around three in the summer, when the humidity has gotten so thick it turns to rain.
“I don’t even want to think about how much sweat is in my butt crack,” he complained, furiously waving the fan he’d picked up somewhere, trying to create a breeze.
I gave up trying to fight it and just gave in to the laughter.
One of the primary problems of turning The Mad Catter into Garden District Gothic was that the book was intended originally to be a sequel to a pair of books that no longer existed; vanished forever into the ether. I had established a character in earlier books of the series who was supposed to take front and center in this one, but I no longer had the back story and was facing the issue of how do I introduce this woman into Scotty’s world? And it was important, because the case involved a long ago murder that took place in this woman’s Garden District mansion–she didn’t own it at the time; she bought it from the original family that owned it, and owned it at the time of the unsolved murder–but I decided the easiest way to do this was make the woman a friend of Scotty’s older sister, which is how he knew her; and she had been a member of the cast of a reality-TV show called Grande Dames of New Orleans, which had been the centering of the previous book in the now-defunct series. I always thought the Grande Dames (obviously, my version of the Real Housewives franchises) was a clever idea and a fun one to explore as well as poke fun at in a fictional setting, and I hated wasting in a series that no one could access anymore. So I decided to keep Serena, and mention that she was in the cast of the new show which hadn’t started filming yet, and she had bought this big house as a centerpiece for her to be filmed in from the show, giving up her luxurious condo in One River Place. (This also gave me the opening to center the next Scotty book in the Grande Dames show.) The party that now opened the book was a housewarming party, so Serena could show off her new manse with the checkered past.
I had also created a character in the Paige series to serve as a kind of nemesis for her, a true crime writer named Jerry Channing, whom eventually I used as the impetus for getting the plot started in The Orion Mask. Jerry became rich and famous writing a book about the infamous, unsolved murder called Garden District Gothic, which in the Paige series seemed like a Scotty title to me, and I used it as a wink to those who were familiar with the Scotty series…and so, in writing about Scotty and the gang solving this old notorious murder, why wouldn’t I call the book Garden District Gothic, since it really is a Scotty title after all?
The murder was, of course, based on the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder that dominated the media and culture for so long back in the day. I just took the set-up of the story from that real-life case and started making up my own characters and backstories for them and went with it from there. The one thing that always bothered me the most about the case was the fact that people viewed the Ramsey family as speaking to the lawyers before calling the police as suspicious; no, it’s actually smart. Sure, it made them look “guilty” in the press (with all those headlines in the tabloids screaming this conclusively proves one of the family did it!!!! Who calls their lawyer first??? To which I again repeat, people who are fucking smart call their lawyer first. Period.), but it was the smart thing to do; someone had the presence of mind to realize that the most obvious suspects in the murder of a child are going to be the immediate family, and why–in a distraught state of grief over your child’s brutal murder–you would need to have a lawyer present when you’re being questioned by the police so you don’t say anything that could be misconstrued as an admission of guilt when you are not in fact guilty.
Always, always, always call the lawyers first. Always. If i have learned anything from my extensive reading of true crime and study of crime fiction, it is “never talk to the cops without a lawyer, especially if you are innocent.”
I was pleased with it when I was finished with it, but I’d kind of like to revise the ending a bit.
And of course, writing it left me with the decision of whether to reuse my Grande Dames of New Orleans reality show for the next Scotty book.